Denver: The Bridge Project

Planning, Leading, Making, and Doing Something

Learn more about The Bridge Project’s approach to positive youth development in Denver, Colorado below!

About The Bridge Project

The Bridge Project is an academic enrichment after school program serving a diverse group of low-income youth in four Denver public housing communities. 37% of participants are Latino, 40% are African-American or African Refugees, 9% are Asian, 8% are Multiracial, 5% are White, and 1% are Native American.  The Denver Housing Authority classifies households in these neighborhoods as “extremely poor,” with average annual incomes of less than $8,490 per family of four.

The Approach

Bridge services are guided by the positive youth development approach, which emphasizes the value of youth leadership opportunities in addressing adolescents growing need for autonomy and independence (Deshenes et al., 2010). Since the summer of 2013, Bridge has partnered with Dr. Yoli Anyon at the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver to implement the Youth Engaged in Leadership and Learning (YELL) program for middle school students at each site. YELL is an evidence-based program developed by scholars and practitioners at the John W. Gardner for Youth and their Communities at Stanford University (Anyon et al., 2007). Participants lead an action research project by gathering information about pressing community issues, creating products that outline their findings, and then advocating for solutions. Throughout this process, students learn key competencies necessary to understand issues of inequality, develop recommendations that target the root causes of social problems, and take action to implement their ideas. Specific skills that students develop include active listening, critical thinking, planning, problem solving, data analysis, and public speaking (Anyon & Naughton, 2003; Conner & Strobel, 2007).

Issues & Actions     

For nearly three years, YELL participants at Bridge have taken on neighborhood issues such as police brutality, bullying, racial discrimination, school closures, and the need for more urban gardens. Advocacy efforts have included presentations to local decision-making bodies, fundraisers for community organizations, meetings with local stakeholders, and education/awareness campaigns. Replicating findings from studies of the YELL program in other communities, Dr. Anyon’s research indicates that YELL participants are more likely than other adolescents at Bridge to have opportunities to plan and lead activities, make rules, and be in charge of doing something to help the community (Durbahn & Anyon, 2015). Approximately 40 youth have completed the program each year.

Learn More

Below is a list of the articles referenced above if you would like to read more:

  • Deschenes, S. N., Arbreton, A., Little, P. M., Herrera, C., Grossman, J. B., & Weiss, H. B. (2010). Engaging older youth: Program and city-level strategies to support sustained participation in out-of-school time. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project.
  • Anyon, Y., Brink, K., Crawford, M., Fernandez, M., Hofstedt, M., Osberg, J., & Strobel, K. (Eds.). (2007). Youth engaged in leadership and learning: A handbook for program staff, teachers, and community leaders. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University, John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities.
  • Anyon, Y., & Naughton, S. (2003). Youth empowerment: The contributions and challenges of youth-led research in a high-poverty, urban community.). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University, John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities.
  • Conner, J. O., & Strobel, K. (2007). Leadership development: An examination of individual and programmatic growth. Journal of Adolescent Research22(3), 275-297.
  • Durbahn, R. & Anyon, Y. (2015). Youth leadership program shows promise as a strategy to increase youth involvement at Bridge sites. Denver, CO: Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver.

You can also learn more about the Bridge Project, Dr. Anyon’s work, and YELL at the following websites:


Any questions or comments should be sent to Dr. Yolanda (Yoli) Anyon (Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver) at